Why RGB LEDs Make The Worst Key Lights

As a streamer, it’s your job to make your stream look amazing. A good looking stream brings people in and can assist in changing them from a general lurker to a loyal viewer.

If you create content with a webcam, you need a key light to look your best. But we’ve seen many creators opt to use cheap RBG LEDs as their main key light to brighten up their face instead.

Spoiler Alert: RGB LEDs are the worst key lights for you and your camera.

Let’s take a look at why RBG LEDs aren’t the way to go, but how you can use them in your overall lighting setup.

Most RBG LEDs Aren’t Strong Enough

As we mentioned before, a key light is the primary light source in your streaming setup that is used to light you up. This is what will help make you stand out from your background, eliminate shadows on a green screen, and show off your facial features better.

Image of a person without lighting versus a person with dedicated lighting.
Lights are used to make you stand out from the background and add flair to your look on camera.
Photo Credit: Nutty

Lighting units are measured using lumens. Lumens measure how bright the LEDs are, so the higher the lumens, the more bright the LED lights are.

Key lights like the metal Elgato Key Light have 2800 lumens and a color temperature of 2900 to 7000 K. This amount of lumens ensures extra bright illumination on the subject and the LED lights are bright yet super dimmable for more adjustment based on the setup needs. Unfortunately for RGB LEDs, they don’t usually have that luxury.

While RGB LEDs offer a lot of cool color variations and accents for a setup, their lumens per meter are much lower than you’d find on a dedicated key light. For example, a lot of the RGB LEDs you’ll find on Amazon use a 5050 LED chip. On average, you get 990-1080 lumens with a 5050 RGB LED chip. Comparing it to a dedicated key lighting set, RGB LEDs just don’t provide the brightness needed to act as a key light in a stream setup. They will end up creating more shadows and less contrast from the background.

A lot of RGB LEDs on Amazon use a 5050 LED chip, which has lower lumens than a dedicated key light.

Colors Aren’t Correct

Another issue that many cheap RGB LEDs face is that lack the color accuracy and white balance, throwing the colors off. If you do art or other visual types of content on stream, where color accuracy is important, RGB LEDs will only harm your look, rather than helping.

RBG LEDs can completely change colors around if you aren’t careful.

Individuals will instantly be able to tell that the colors are off and can actually lead to them leaving the stream altogether. It’s hard to focus on a stream when an apple that should be red is showing up as purple.

Some RBG LEDs do have apps and control centers that allow you to adjust brightness and tweak colors, but the adjustments you make can be thrown off immediately if everything else doesn’t stay the same. For example, when you are tweaking the colors and brightness, your monitor may be giving off a white hue. But if you are playing a game later that has a red hue being given off by the monitor, this will shift the adjustments you just made and offset the color again.

You’ll never be able to get the color fully correct without using a proper key light as your base lighting system.

Use RBG LEDs as Secondary Lighting

While RGB LEDs are definitely not the go-to for key lighting, they can be used as great secondary lighting or even accent lighting in your stream setup.

RGB LEDs as accent lighting

For some creators, a single color lighting setup may lack the look they are going for. You will be lit up very well, but the background will be pretty bland and dark. This is where you can use RBG LEDs for a great look.

RBG panels or light strips allow you a ton of creative possibilities. Maybe your brand color is red, so you want a red hue in the background. Or if you roleplay, maybe you want a candle flicker on the right side of your face. This is where RGB LEDs can be used the best.

Image showing a person without dedicated lighting versus a person with dedicated lighting.
Left side shows no key light or RGB LEDs, while the right shows a combination of a dedicated key light with RGB LEDs used as accent lights.
Photo Credit: StreamYard

You can also use RGB LEDs to provide accent lights on specific items in your background. Maybe you have a trophy or display case you want to show off. These would work great in drawing the eye to them, without having to worry if its providing enough brightness.

RGB LEDs as secondary lighting

If you are utilizing a green screen or want to show a lot of small details, you can use RGB LEDs as hair lights or secondary light sources for a better chroma key. Because the lumens needed is a lot less for secondary lighting compared to a key light, you can still use your RGB LED light strips to aid in a great lighting setup.

LED lights can be pretty bright while clustered together, so you can point them toward your hair for a quality hair light. You can also have light sources on the left and right sides of your setup to help lower shadows on a green screen and add more contour and details to the subject.

As we mentioned in the previous key light article, there are hundreds of ways to light a subject. Find what you want to look like on camera and start building out your lighting set needs from there.

Using the right equipment to light yourself in your stream setup is critical to a great look on camera. While RGB LEDs are much cheaper for most lighting situations, they don’t compare to a dedicated key lighting set.

Not only do they typically lack the lumens that you need to show up well on camera, but RGB LEDs can completely throw off the colors in a shot. Even with adjustments, if the light changes slightly where you stream, the adjustments will be nulled. But RGB LEDs can be great accent and secondary lights if you use a green screen or want additional light sources.

Just make sure they are being used as a support, rather than the main lighting set.

Are you going to make the change to a dedicated key light? Let us know why or why not in the comments below!

And as always, keep on creating and GLHF!


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